February 2005

Ives - A Symphony: New England Holidays; Three Places in New England; etc.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; David Zinman, conductor
Decca 476 1537
Format: CD
Originally Released: 1995
Reissue Released: 2004

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment *****

In his tenure as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, David Zinman provided outstanding service to American music. He showed real discernment in the music he chose to champion, and he made his commitment all the more meaningful by raising the orchestra to a high level of performance. Zinman is one of the most effective orchestra trainers anywhere, as he has demonstrated very pointedly in his post-Baltimore work as conductor of the venerable Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. The Baltimore SO he handed over to his successor, Yuri Temirkanov, (who is himself stepping down from that post next year) was, and remains, one of our country’s finest, irrespective of the "Big Five" mystique or any other such notions of an unvarying hierarchy.

In any event, the Universal Group has brought out a bunch of back-catalog material from its various labels in the "Rosette Collection," with new covers identifying these recordings as having been given favorable attention (the "Rosette") in The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs. One of these is Zinman’s 1995 Ives collection (originally issued on the Argo label) with the Baltimore SO and its chorus: two very basic big works -- Three Places in New England and the Holidays Symphony -- both preceded by the "War Song March" They Are There!

In the Holidays, Leonard Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic performance on Sony still reigns supreme, and there is a great deal to be said for the vigor and character that inform the more recent recording on the same label by Michael Tilson Thomas and the Chicago SO of the Solti era. Ormandy’s premiere recording, on RCA Victor, of James Sinclair’s restoration of the full-orchestra version of Three Places in New England remains a powerful gesture of advocacy, and there is even a Stokowski version of They Are There! on Sony. But there are so many strong points in Zinman’s performances -- so much compassion and depth in perhaps unexpected places -- that he is not only a strong contender but also makes a very strong argument for having more than a single take on these works. The splendid sound quality is quite an asset, too.

The documentation consists entirely of Philippe Danel’s interview with Zinman, who contributes a great deal of fascinating background -- and who must have assumed, reasonably enough, that the "basics" would be covered elsewhere in the presentation. But they are not. Apparently it is the Sinclair restoration of Three Places that is performed here, but there is not a word about this (except a general reference by Zinman to "the availability of the most recent Ives editions...edited scrupulously by James B. Sinclair and Wayne D. Shirley"). Even more regrettably, the texts are not given for They Are There! and Thanksgiving (the final part of Holidays). To be sure, these are sung in English, but there is a lot going on and it is unrealistic to expect all the words to register through the ear alone.